Joshua has – with the exception of a large chunk in the middle – been a refreshing read. Finally, after the greater part of four books spend on statutes and ordinances, we had stories! Action! Narrative!
I had the sense when we encountered Joshua in Exodus and Numbers that his story had been shoe-horned into the Moses story, that perhaps they had once been the same (or very similar) figure albeit with different names – something like the relationship between Jupiter and Zeus, perhaps. That sense has only grown stronger as I read through the Book of Joshua. Over and over again, the stories of Moses are repeated only with Joshua as the principle player, particularly in the final chapter where he directs the covenant, gives statues and ordinances to the people, and writes his own book of law.
In fact, I suspect that Joshua, Moses, and Abraham may all have been founding figures in their own geographical areas, only to be woven into a single narrative once the nation of Israel emerged. In all three cases, the patriarch leads the people from outside into a promised land at God’s direction, founding the nation. All three “invent” circumcision (though, in Moses’s case, it is Zipporah’s doing). Moses and Joshua both deliver laws. Moses and Abraham both have wives/sisters who hint at being goddesses (or, at least, priestesses) and go through a mock-sacrifice of their sons. I discussed the Moses/Abraham connected here, and my pre-Book of Joshua feelings about Joshua here.
Reinforcing the possible legitimacy of this impression, J.R. Porter writes:
Most of the territory conquered according to the book of Joshua is in the area later allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. The core of the book may represent how just one tribe came to possess its own particular territory. (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p. 62)
If that’s the case, it adds plausibility to the idea that Joshua may have initially been a local founding figure.
My other dominant impression of the Book of Joshua was in how it read from a post-Exile perspective. Certainly, the idea that victory and conquest over enemies will come through faith and perfect obedience to the ordinances makes sense. In a way, it’s a message of hope – do your X, Y, and Zs and you will be able to go home, you will no longer be oppressed. Of course, the irony is, as Collins puts it, “that the people of Israel and Judah suffered the kind of violent conquest that they supposedly had inflicted on the Canaanites” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.102).
At no point did I see an awareness of this. Much as Deuteronomy encourages fairness and kindness in dealing with others, there is also a blind spot where those who are regarded as the enemy are concerned.
I’ve already started putting together my research for Judges, and it looks like we’re in store for even more narrative. I think we’re through the slog, at least for the time being!